Michael Thomas’ fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

Expected to miss multiple weeks, should fantasy football managers draft Saints WR Michael Thomas at his ADP, and what is his outlook for 2021?

After a disappointing 2020 campaign plagued by injuries, many fantasy football managers were hoping for a better outlook in 2021 from New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas. However, after his latest ankle surgery, those hopes were quickly dashed, causing his value to plummet. Likely to miss close to half the season, could Thomas be worth a stash at his reduced ADP, or do his fantasy outlook and uncertainties surrounding his health suggest avoiding the situation entirely?

Michael Thomas’ fantasy outlook for 2021

Unfortunately, the Michael Thomas saga continues to find new ways to both surprise and disappoint us. Right after it seemed we were turning a corner, his season-long outlook has reached an all-new low.

Still dealing with the effects of his ankle injury suffered in Week 1 of 2020, Thomas underwent his second surgery on his ankle in June. It comes with a four-month timeline for recovery. Based on this timeline and recent reports, we could be looking at Thomas coming back around Week 6 to 8 of the regular season. He will start 2021 on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

No one really has a good answer as to why Thomas waited until June to have the surgery. It was known back in January it was going to require two surgeries. All we know is that this is the reality we face. There is a genuine possibility Thomas has another disappointing fantasy season in 2021.

From record-breaker to the sideline

After a WR1 finish in 2019, where he set an NFL record with 149 receptions to go with 1,725 yards and 9 TDs, Thomas finished 2020 with 40 catches for 438 yards in the regular season (7 games). He didn’t catch his first touchdown pass until the playoffs.

It’s hard to expect anything more than a near repeat of 2020 as he could miss at least eight games. That is without considering the QB change from Drew Brees to a combination of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. 

The thing is, Thomas still has a chance to be valuable in fantasy, but only for the patient. Sure, he is no longer the WR9 that he was in rankings a few weeks ago. But in the latter half of the season, Thomas could be worth stashing, especially towards the playoffs. Anytime you can get a boost, specifically when games mean more, that could be what wins a championship.

Fantasy projection

It is safe to say this is a major disappointment for Thomas. Heading into last year, he had three straight seasons with at least 147 targets and 104 receptions. Additionally, Thomas just recorded his fourth season with over 1,130 yards and 5 touchdowns. 

There has been the persistent fear that Hill starting could massively jeopardize Thomas’ projection and outlook. But I am not sure that would be the case. While the Saints did see a reduction in overall attempts (28.5 per game with Hill), his target distribution was hyper-focused in Thomas’ direction. 

In their four games together, Thomas averaged 9.3 targets, 7.5 receptions, 85.8 yards, 0.3 TDs, and 16.1 ppg. That’s 33% of the team targets and a massive 53% of the receiver target share. And remember, we have considered this the lesser of two options between him and Winston.

We have seen Winston put up ridiculous numbers in fantasy. Not only was he the QB3 in 2019, but his receivers benefited as well. Chris Godwin finished as the WR2 behind Thomas in 2019, and Mike Evans finished as the WR15.

Add Winston’s willingness to air it out and the apparent “Masterclass” he received from both Brees and head coach Sean Payton, and Thomas was in line for a massive bounce-back season.

Unfortunately, those expectations, along with projections, need to be cut in half. Based on the most recent rumors, I am basing my fantasy projections on Thomas playing in 10 games. Once on the field, I believe Thomas will be a significant playmaker in the Saints’ offense. He could also be a substantial factor for patient managers who are making a playoff push.

My current projections have Thomas slated for around 90-95 targets with 70 receptions, 820-840 yards, and 4-5 touchdowns.

Thomas’ ADP in fantasy drafts

ADP data has slowly leveled out following Thomas’ injury. However, on some sites, those numbers can still be skewed by the pre-injury numbers. That could reflect the disparity between Thomas’ ADP on Sleeper at 62 and his ADP of 74.3 on Fleaflicker and 76.3 on NFC.

Should you draft Thomas at this ADP in 2021?

Everything boils down to whether or not you have enough bench spots to spare. Especially when that could be for a considerable amount of time. Given injuries and COVID creeping back up, each spot could be vital. Still, if you can navigate the season until Thomas is back on the field, all of a sudden, you are injecting a low-end WR1 to a high-end WR2 straight into your lineup.

Without question, it will be a headache every single week trying to keep up with the “will Thomas play this week?” headlines. That could be enough to let someone else deal with it.

There is no guarantee anything comes out of it. But there is also the side where Thomas slides late enough in a fantasy draft, and his outlook far outweighs the risk of his ADP. In late rounds, you are shooting for upside. No one has more upside than the former WR1 in fantasy in the middle-to-late rounds.

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